During exam time, BBC Sport is comfortably my most visited website, alongside Facebook, Reddit, and of course, The Saint. The constant cycle of revision avoidance usually involves me taking an interest in a bizarre sport, to fill the small gaps between the numerous football matches. Although the handball Champions League has been keeping me pretty busy, my eye was drawn by the headline “foreign players to get cultural lessons to tackle racism”. ‘Surely this is a typo. or a joke?’ I said to myself. But no, on further reading, the FA will introduce a crash course in English life for overseas players.
The plan comes as the result of a summit with at 10 Downing Street in February, held to discuss racism in football. The course, part of a 93-page document which the summit produced, is of course one of the most ludicrous things ever heard from the FA, which is really saying something.
This is a response to the various racism cases that have come up this year, but the summit itself was specifically held in the aftermath of the Suarez-Evra affair. The FA dismissed Suarez’s defence that the term he had used was a cultural misunderstanding, and yet now, seem to be admitting that there are significant cultural differences which could lead to racial offences. Hypocrisy much?
At face value, this is a clumsy PR move, backed by the government, which will no doubt generate numerous committees, high-level management positions, and inquiries. The Lords certainly will be busy with this one. Just wait for the next quango.
However, what these lessons are doing is closing a legal loophole. Although it is a defence that Luis Suarez was not allowed to make, the cultural misunderstandings could almost constitute a reasonable defence, especially if we think about it from the other way round. If you were whisked away to a club in Malaysia in a deadline day loan move, it is distinctly possible that you may not be immediately aware that your neck tattoo could be incredibly offensive. By introducing these lessons, the FA remove this defence from anyone, and come closer to creating a water-tight legal challenge to racism in football.
That being said, the title is completely ridiculous, the system is patronising, and this fails to address the instituional racism in English football culture. But then, this is the FA. Give them a decade or two.